Manchester United have promised to begin providing improved facilities for the women’s team at the club’s AON training complex as of this summer, with the ultimate goal of working towards a ‘fully integrated’ approach, where men, women and academy teams are all based at one site.
It is a welcome boost to fans of the women’s team, having been left concerned by the club’s commitment in the wake of manager Casey Stoney’s sudden departure last month.
Stoney was hired as United’s first boss in 2018 and oversaw promotion from the Women’s Championship and impressive consolidation in the top flight WSL.
But the 39-year-old’s exit raised questions about how the club treats its women’s team. It became apparent soon after the news broke that dissatisfaction and frustrations relating to training conditions for her players had contributed to Stoney’s resignation.
For most of her time in charge, United trained on outdoor community pitches adjacent to their home stadium on the Leigh Sports Village site. This was Stoney’s decision, having refused the chance to be based at the main Carrington site over concerns at having to work around the men’s team.
The women eventually did move to Carrington in March in a bid to get on top of a string of costly injuries that saw United slump to fourth in the WSL table and miss out on a Champions League place.
But even winter weather had affected United’s ability to train normally and it appeared that Stoney was ultimately left fed up with the whole situation and opted to walk away instead of keep fighting.
Stoney was also unimpressed by the way the club handled the team’s first ever game at Old Trafford, which took place against West Ham in March behind closed doors and not broadcast live on television, severely limiting fan access to what should have been a momentous occasion.
With United now at a crucial juncture in their short history, with Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal still ahead and now Everton threatening to leapfrog them from behind, the club has met with fan reps to try to outline and develop plans for the future of the team.
In light of that meeting, the club has explained that a ‘package of improvements for the Women’s team facilities’ will be implemented over the summer and beyond. A United statement also pointed to recent comments made by co-chairman Joel Glazer and his insistence that there will be overdue investment in Old Trafford and the training complex, which will hopefully benefit the women as well.
The club says: “The long-term intention is for a fully integrated approach to the training ground with the Women’s team, Men’s team and Academy at one site.”
This kind of approach is already the case across town at Manchester City, where the Etihad Campus is an enviable world class hub of footballing activity at every level.
The huge shame for United is that such an attitude towards its women’s team wasn’t in place sooner, perhaps costing the club the services of one of the best female managers in the game.